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MotoringFile Review: MINI JCW Coupe

Sometimes journalists are wrong. As I sit here at an outdoor table, at a cafe in a particularly stylish spot in Chicago, I’m watching people do double takes as they walk by our black JCW Coupe and its red top. I’m on my second iced coffee and every reaction I’ve seen has been positive. I’ve seen stylish women pointing and little boys taking pictures.

In a neighborhood thick with Ferraris, Porsches and the like, this little car is clearly the most interesting thing on the streets. It’s moments like this that make me realize that jaded journalists should be the last people anointed as the automotive taste-makers. Could the R58 MINI Coupe be on a slow burn like the original BMW Z3 M Coupe? After spending a week with the car, I’m beginning to think so. In fact, I think the car’s production life-cycle will come and go before the grassroots ground swell of positive reaction hits its stride. This is a car that will get popular with time, and by the time this little black and red JCW finds its way into the hands of its second or third owner, the R58 will likely be spoken of in reverential terms.

Yet on paper the R58 Coupe makes no sense. It has more weight (around 27 lbs depending on spec) and less space, which puts it at odds with a few of MINI’s core tenets. However, with that changing of the formula comes some interesting positives.

The R58 Coupe is based on the R57 convertible, and that means additional structural bracing to shore up a topless car. By putting a top back on a car that wasn’t meant to have one, MINI has increased torsional rigidity to almost unnecessary levels. This is great for performance around corners, but extra steel means extra weight. Period. And while weight does make a difference, here it’s less about weight and more about weight distribution. The Coupe has more of it upfront as compared to the standard Hardtop. This tail lightness creates a driving dynamic called lift-off oversteer — that happy feeling of nose-tucking rotation you get when you push a MINI hard into a corner and lift off the accelerator. All Hardtop-based MINIs do it, but the Coupe does it even more. It’s the kind of thing that would get you killed in a vintage Porsche. In the JCW Coupe it’s launching you sideways into a thrilling tail-out drift.

And damm is it fun.

Beyond front-to-back, the Coupe carries its weight much lower in the car. This gives the Coupe the lowest center of gravity of any fixed top MINI. Obviously, when it comes to cornering and stability, the lower that center of gravity, the better.

We’ve already reviewed the JCW Coupe on the track and found it to be a riot with (good) scary lift off oversteer and an eagerness to turn in that most modern cars can’t come near. The Coupe’s slightly stiffer suspension (across all three options) also gives the car less body-roll and better control in corners. This is as true on the road as it is on the track — shaving seconds off both lap times and the evening commute. It doesn’t stop there, though.

The Coupe’s sleek silhouette earns it better aerodynamic efficiency, and with that, faster 0-60 times. In both the Coupe and the Roadster, MINI also introduced a movable wing to reduce rear lift — something inherent in the MINI’s typically short boxy design. The wing reduces lift on the rear axel by as much as 90 lbs. In the case of the Coupe, MINI took steps to also limit turbulence (a by-product of the short rear window) with a roof-mounted spoiler. This roof spoiler not only gives the Coupe its signature, backwards baseball cap profile, but diverts air downward and onto the wing, further aiding in lift reduction.

Weight and aero: these are the unique, raw assets that make the Coupe the most performance-minded variation in the MINI line-up. It may not sound like much, but it adds up to a MINI that feels decidedly different on the edge and especially at the track. From the oversteer to the increased high speed stability, the Coupe is just a little more at home when pushed than any other MINI variant.

That in itself should give this car pedigree. But then there’s the look. The very thing that so many journalists have panned is what sets this car apart and draws people in. From my week-long experience with the car, it’s quite successful at getting people’s positive attention. However, the experience of driving the Coupe further sets it apart. It’s unlike anything else in the MINI lineup.

Its low-slung demeanor produces a cocooning cockpit that feels very different than any MINI before it. While that seems like an enjoyable idea, it actually took me some getting used to. Limited visibility and the lack of the typical, airy MINI cabin was a little hard to resolve for the first few days I had the JCW Coupe. Could this be one of the reasons for slow Coupe sales in this part of the country? If so, it’s a shame because after a few days scurrying about Chicago behind the wheel of our Black and Red JCW Coupe, it all started to make sense. The stance. The look. The small cabin. It felt sinister in a cheeky way. Utterly unique, yet still quintessentially MINI.

Our test car came equipped with what in my mind are a handful of essential options: Midnight Black Metallic paint, Navigation with MINI Connected, Punch Leather seating, black headlights and Sport suspension. The grand total; $38,100. If your scoring at home, the majority of the cost is in the Navigation and leather seating. You could get by with black headlights and sport suspension and come in at $33,850. But pound for pound, MINI’s pricing will always be on the high side. With the Coupe starting even higher than the hatch, it just exacerbates this. However, those lusting after a Coupe may be in luck. Some dealers, such as MINI of Chicago, are currently offering $3-$4k off Coupes that are just sitting on lots. More on that in a minute.

Day to day the Coupe is easy to live with if you don’t mind just two seats. The trunk isn’t as large as a normal MINI hatch with the seats folded down, but with the large hatch it’s easier to make use of all the space it does have. For a couple, or someone single, the Coupe’s lack of utility isn’t much of an issue. Especially if you prefer the more individual nature of the design.

It’s a focused car. Two doors, two seats and a silhouette that marks the Coupe as something instantly special. For enthusiasts it’s easy to get hung up on the extra 27 lbs, but the reality is that this is the most focused and best sorted MINI chassis to date. It rewards the driver with a lively yet controlled experience at the limit. Bottom line, it’s just that little bit more fun.

It’s this logic that makes it a driver’s car. However some of that same logic also makes it decidedly inferior to the standard MINI hatch. Because of this, everyone from journalists to potential buyers are having trouble making sense of the Coupe. Where does it fit within the MINI range? What does it compete against in the broader automotive landscape? These are the kind of questions that journalists ponder over pints. Yet they really shouldn’t matter. It’s a tired analogy, but the Coupe is a car that defies typical classification.

Yes, it has less of what makes the standard MINI so versatile. Yes, it costs more and doesn’t technically offer much more performance. But the Coupe is a rare machine that charms by being utterly unique. Its focus on driving — its a stiffer chassis and better weight distribution — makes the driving experience all the more pure. It’s not something you can find on paper. You can only experience it from behind the wheel.

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Written By: Gabe

  • walk0080

    Looks good in this colour combo. Not impressed with the Coupe in some other shades though. Leather and GPS are totally not worth the price but those black headlights are a must. Not sold on the chrome grill surround – I might black it out on my JCW hatch.

    Wonder how many people wondered what the heck is a “john cooper works”??? I get that a lot.

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      We’ll be adding the black rad light surrounds and black grille on our long term JCW roadster with the same color combo.

      • birddog2

        When will you get the Roadster ? I’ve been looking forward to your reviews, I love my “S”

        • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

          Likely a week or two. You’ll see plenty on the site when we get it. In the meantime look for a quick take on the car by Todd from his time with it on MTTS.

      • JonPD

        Good choice, first thing I did with ours too, the silver accents (especially with the black headlights are ugly) really do great things to the front of the car.

        Solid review, still consider me blown away and angry over MINI putting a GP on hold (at the best).

      • Se7en_speed

        Gabe, the 2013 configurator just went online, did they emilinate the black challenge spoke wheels as an option for the JCW? (aka the same ones on the car pictured) If so I didn’t see anything about it, they just disapeared from the configurator. And I want them dammit!

  • ulrichd

    I notice everyone photographs their Coupe with the spoiler up. What happened to the JCW wing that was mentioned a few months back.

  • RakSiam

    I bought mine mainly for the uniqueness factor and because I really like the way it looks. And as a single person I don’t need more seats and like the bigger boot space. Even the visibility is something that you get used to pretty quickly and as long as you adjust the mirrors properly it’s not much of an issue. Mine is Laguna green which makes it an ultra-rare bird. I’ve had nothing but positive comments and questions from people on the street. And I still have yet to see another one on the road despite living in a highly MINI intensive area.

  • jbkONE

    i don’t like the roof styling, but I LOVE that it’s so different. Were I buying a new car, I’d definitely have that on the short list. The fact that it’s rare and different makes it much more desirable IMO.

  • kurt

    I have a unique “one of a kind” S Coupe that snuck through the factory in White Silver with the (slightly) darker silver roof and mirrors. This is the first MINI (of the 4 I have owned) that makes me grin every time I walk toward it in a parking lot. More so once I start ‘er up! I get the thumbs up from men, women and kids. Some lean out their windows and say how much they like it. Most ask if it’s a convertible (sigh) but bottom line is this: It’s a blast to drive – I’ve only seen 2 others in Massachusetts since delivery last October – and the way you feel tooling down the road in that snug little cockpit cannot be beat!

  • sharon

    It’s an incredible looking car, imho, and would have replaced my R53 had it not been for it’s horrid rear visibility

  • john

    I took possesion of my Eclipse grey/red roof and mirroredJCW Coupe in Dec ’11 and it’s gotten better and more fun everyday! Like mentioned above I get people of all walks of life going out of their way to compliment it like it’s some rare supercar. Amazing! It shocked me how many MINI owners bashed the Coupe early on but some have seemed to change their minds. Perhaps they realized that they to one day not so long ago had a strange looking little car :) I’m a MINI fan no matter the model and I’m glad to say I picked one that fits me well.

    I agree with the black out. I blacked mine out totally minus the door handles and it’s sinister as hell looking!

    • Mark Rosenthal

      …would love to see pics of your car

  • http://twitter.com/gun11199 Richard Franklin

    i and most i meet love my s coupe!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jon-Cammarata/1506521982 Jon Cammarata

    I must ask again, why is the new GP NOT going to be made from this coupe? It is stiffer, has better handling, better aerodynamics, and is just overall better suited to be the 2-seat track monster that the ideal GP should be. It’s really a no-brainer. Why is nobody else asking this question?

    • b-

      Jon, we are not asking because we know the answer. It is a very mini Thing to do the SAME thing over again and again… This car is great but you know what, it is TOO much like the 2006 GP, same thing over again. They say that they want the GP to be special so they are putting a hold on the R58 GP for a while but this car makes the 2006 GP less special. Similar style paint, similar style wing, similar style wheels, similar style graphics around the scoop… It has it all. Sure, the performance is great but they really should have done more to make it look DIFFERENT from the 2006 car.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jon-Cammarata/1506521982 Jon Cammarata

        I re-read your reply 3 times now, and I don’t get what you’re saying… If they want the GP to look different from the original 2006 GP, then wouldn’t a completely different shape (the coupe seen above) do just that, and then some?

        All I know is that the GP is supposed to be the absolute performance pinnacle for MINI; the very best performing and handling car they can possibly make. Right now, that car for MINI is this JCW coupe. Hence, MINI should use the JCW coupe as the foundation for the new GP. It’s really, really simple!

        • b-

          Jon, I was agreeing with you but MINI likes to do the same old thing. The R56 GP is WAY to similar to the R53 GP! The GP cars tend to come out at the end of production so hopefully we will see an R58 GP at the end of the R58 production, that is the car I would buy!

  • b-

    Great write up, now I want one more!

  • Nick

    Great review. My Eclipes Gray JCW Coupe with Chili Red roof, stripes and mirror caps gets a lot of positive comments.

  • LTL M CPE

    Great take Gabe. Mine gets tons of attention from people of all ages and the comments are positive. My MTTS navigator couldn’t believe all the looks people gave it while going by on the roads. While getting gas in IA a guy drove slowly by in a beat up truck and leaned out saying “that’s a good looking car”. :)

  • Dr Obnxs

    My take is a bit different…. Yes, the handling is a bit better out of the box. Yes, it’s a bit more eager to “play”, but you have to be the right demographic for it to work for you. In all honesty in most driving situations outside of a track, the differences in handling won’t hold you back. But to get this to work for you, you have to not need two seats, have to deal with some really poor rear visibility, and you have to accept the caccoon as opposed to the really good greenhouse in the standard hatch. The uniqueness will fade over time (at least in some areas). When I got my first MINI, you’d never see two at an intersection at the same time… Now, it’s very common. So the fact that it’s new and different will fade (at least in major markets). Me? I had fun thrashing both the S and the JCW, but it’s a formula that doesn’t work for me because of the rest of the stuff I like a car for. But I don’t assume to be the architype of all MINI drivers, and that’s good. It’s going to be a niche car for a niche audience, and that’s OK.

  • SPICYJCWCOUPE

    I’ve had my special ordered JCW Coupe since late October and have lost track of how many positive comments I’ve received whereever I go as well attracting lots of attention while cruising down the road. Even at the huge MOTD this year with all the great MINIS there, it was a headturner. I opted for the spicy orange metallic with black roof, black challenger spoke wheels, carbon fiber hood scoop & rear deck handle, blacked out headlights, nav/Mini Connect, etc. With the black roof, most ask if it’s a removeable hartop since it looks like one! Within a few months after taking possession, I have had everything blacked out including the grill border, headlight & taillight rings, door handles, waist line, & side turn signals, So except for the JCW logo on the grill & back, it has no chrome. This is my 2nd MINI…had a 2008 S hatch in all pepperwhite. That one was great in its own way. So is this JCW Coupe! No regrets at all. The only negative I can see with the Coupe is the very limited rear visibility…especially the rear quarters. So had to make adjustments in my driving going from the S hatch to the JCW Coupe. As for backing up, I included the backup warning system viewed on the center console as one of my option purchases. I recommend it very much in the Coupe.


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MINI Model Cheat Sheet

1st Gen MINI
R50: One & MC Hatch
R52: All 1st Gen MINI Convt.
R53: MCS Hatch
2nd Gen MINI
R55: Clubman
R56: Hatch
R57: Convertible
R58: Coupe
R59: Roadster
R60: MINI Crossover
R61: MINI Crossover Coupe
3rd Gen MINI
F54: Clubman
F55: Five Door Hatch
F56: Hatch
F57: Convertible
F60: MINI Crossover
F58: Traveller

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